Free School Meal Entitlement and educational outcomes

The OECD reinforced the point that there is more variation in educational outcomes within schools than between schools.

The report also stressed the difference in educational outcomes for those pupils who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

We have been doing some research into this area in East Lothian – which is still at an early stage – but initial results would suggest that the average attainment for S4 pupils, who ARE entitled to Free School Meals, is exactly half that of the average attainment of their peers who ARE NOT  entitled to Free School Meals.

I’ve always had difficulty with the idea of raising attainment of the lowest attaining 20% of pupils – as expressed in recent national priorities. The problems of identifying these children makes it an artificial distinction – lowest at what? Maths, English, PE?, art?

I’ve also had difficulty with the idea of closing the gap – as many people worry that the attainment gap might be closed by simply depressing the results of those children who have high levels levels of attainment.

However, we can identify children who are entitled to Free School Meals from their earliest years in education. At a time when we are looking to identify data to judge the effectiveness of the system – and to identify if we add value to children’s lives – I am tending towards seeing the educational outcomes for children who are entitled to Free School Meals as a key indicator, in addition to the academic attainment of Looked Afer and Accommodated Children (of course many of the latter group are also included in the former).

We will be exploring this in much greater depth with our colleagues in schools over the next few months at all levels in the system.

5 thoughts on “Free School Meal Entitlement and educational outcomes

  1. I am interested in the point you raise in paragraph 5 about closing the gap as I’ve long been struck by the problem of “comparative improvement” in a “closed system.” For example, teachers of non-compulsory subjects in secondary schools feel pressure to keep class sizes as large as possible. But from where are these pupils to come? Colleagues classes. The idea of social mobility, currently popular in the media, suggests that, for some to rise, the status of others must remain static or drop. If the income of everyone in Britain were multiplied by 100 tomorrow, would social mobility continue to be a problem?

  2. Alan

    You put your finger on my difficulty with “closing the gap”.

    Whatever else it should be about it shouldn’t be about any other children having to do less well.



  3. I have always thought that the debate about leveling up and levelling down in relation to addressing inequality of any sort is a sterile one.

    To my mind its not the the degree of difference in achievement in an education, health or social system that is the real issue. The world would be dull indeed if we were all the same – its who the system supports achievement for and who it fails to support that is the real issue.

    Currently, educational achievement as with health and well being is closely correlated to income levels. If those recieiving free school meals are attaining at only half the average of their peers the conclusion has to be that many of those children are failing to achieve their full potential – and that is the gap that needs to be addressed. I am not saying that schools are alone in failing those children. It may be that schools are doing all that is possible and the answer to these issues lies beyond the school gate.

    A greater concern for me about the inequality debate within an education system is how attainment is measured. If the end product of schooling is to be assessed by no’s of pupils that pass or fail at certain subjects, then it is going to miss so much of what a good school can influence in a child.

    Are those that do not do well at exams, or are of a below average ability (from whatever background) to be seen as those that have not got the best out of their time at school. Do schools add more to children than the ability to pass exams – can it be measured, and would it make the closing the gap debate different if we did.

  4. Using Scottish Government Datazone data will indicate poverty in a more targeted and reliable way than Free School Meals. This gives a much bigger picture of families living in poverty as it looks at employment, car ownership, health and other factors. Free School Meals is a very crude measurement and the children of families on minimum wage can be experiencing worse poverty. Looked After and Accommodated children are not entitled to Free School Meals yet require significant levels of support in school.

  5. Steven, I agree with you so much. Currently Inclusion and Closing the Gap is measured in the outcomes it brings to children in terms of their attendance, attainment and exclusion rates. To reduce the huge amount of life enriching practice for families that goes on in schools to these basic 3 quantitative measurements misses so much of the outstanding outcomes achieved. I’ve started to thinki of writing something on the lines of Lives We have Touched – a qualitative look at inclusive practice in school and its impact on children and families.

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